Permanent link for New Year with No Dreams, by Cecelia Olson, Kaufman Campus Intern on January 22, 2024
Dreams are overrated.
I understand that sounds a bit bleak, especially with this new year and our collective societal obsessions with goals and new beginnings. But recently I have learned I am not a dreamer. Plain and simple. When I tell this to people they seem a bit confused and then there is a following response along the lines of “well don’t say that”. I appreciate the etiquette but I am actually very content with not having big dreams or deeply specific goals for my life. Again, bleak.
One of my dear friends is a chronic dreamer. Everyday he wakes up
with a mentality that he can be or do whatever he wants with his day,
his life. This is how most of us wake up I imagine, with at least a
little bit of autonomy and hope but probably a larger chunk of
responsibility than he had. Regardless, most of us might take this
autonomy and freedom to dream to the extent that we can change up our morning routine, maybe wear jeans to work instead of slacks – screw it, even get fast food for dinner.
My friend dreamt he could wake up and be a cowboy in Montana, climb
his way up to the top of a corporate ladder, go into carpentry, be an
inventor of the next big
revolutionary piece of furniture, join the military, move to Alaska or Hawaii, be an expert sailor. Perhaps his biggest dream was traveling the world and getting to come back home to a perfect little house on top of a hill.
I recently heard someone else say they feel like their dreams are
obligations to accomplish, some type of self achievement checklist
that allows them to believe they
have lived a life that was meaningful and purposeful.
I wonder if it was the weight of all these dreams that made him feel a bit trapped in his life.
For myself, with the exception of perhaps having a beautiful clawfoot bathtub one day, there are not many things I actively desire and deeply want for my life. At least not in the same respect as my friend. I don’t have dreams. No big bucket list I am anxious about completing. My dreamlessness was made very clear after many conversations and secretive comparisons between myself and my friend. See, it’s not that I don’t have any ambition or motivation for my life. However I am not convinced I am the one who propels most of what happens within it. They say the Christian life is one of intense cooperation with God, but it is impossible to reach out and join hands with God when they are tightly clinging to our self created dreams and expectations. The wonderful Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and writer, puts it a bit more succinctly in his work Turn my Mourning into Dancing where he writes:
“When we stop grasping our lives, we can finally be given more than we could ever grab for ourselves”.
It was a bit confusing to find this quote that so clearly articulates what I have slowly been realizing in a book revolving around embracing and struggling with grief, but I think now it makes sense. When I asked my dreamer friend if he had any New Year’s resolutions, he shrugged and said, “oh, just the same ones I write down every year.”
How many of us are grasping so tightly onto wild dreams and old resolutions just so we can avoid the grief of reality when our lives might not look the way we want them to? Aren’t we all a bit desperate to avoid the reality that we actually have much less control over our lives, and especially over other people’s lives, than we think we do?
If you’ve read some of my previous blog posts, you’ll know I am a
practicing Eastern Orthodox Christian. Personally, I am a big believer
in God’s will. No, not the pop culture definitions that use God’s will
as a scapegoat or the one where I think that whatever I do in my life
doesn’t matter, none of that. I believe in the Will where I am
invited to intensely cooperate with God.
I believe God’s Will is to love my neighbor and my enemy. My only responsibility is to build and embrace a heart where this love can live itself out. How exactly that looks is not for me to dream up. When I look back at the past year I see that my life has been full of more maturity, friendships, struggle, forgiveness, endurance, accomplishments, learning, direction, and joy than I could have ever dreamt for myself. I trust God with my desire to have a fulfilling and loving life, and I trust Him to figure out the details of how it all plays out.
Perhaps my friend gripped his dreams so tightly because he didn’t
have a trustworthy place to set them down, a place where there are no
crushing expectations or the lie that we can earn love and purpose and
worth. I find all this is Christ. See, I don’t have any real desire
for dreams because I’ve learned I’m not in
control, or even possession of my life anyways.
My life was given to me to be given to others.
I am by no means a saint and fail at this countless times, but I do my best to give away my life –that is my effort, thought, heart, hope, friendship, service, talents– to whatever and whoever has been given to me. We grasp things desperately - stability, hope, dreams - when we are afraid of what will happen when we let go. Perhaps we think we’ll be letting go of purpose, success, fame, confidence, predictability, hope, or even love. Of course we cling to dreams. But like Nouwen alluded to, when we come to life, when I come to God, with open hands, an open heart, and the intention of giving what was given we can receive much more than what we clung to in the first place.
With all integrity I do not mean this post as a guilt trip. I admire deeply how much hope my dreamer friend could cultivate within his life and use it to inspire others. By all means, go travel the world, be a cowboy in Montana, create that piece of furniture, please get to that lovely house on top of the hill, write down the same old resolutions. But I hope you aren’t clinging to those things thinking they will help you avoid the grief of reality and the unknown. Embrace everything that happens and everything that didn’t but, don’t get stuck there. I’ll end with a quote from an Orthodox Christian saint, St.Gregory Nazianzen:
“Do not let your troubles distress you too much. For the less we grieve over things, the less grievous they are.”
Cheers to a New Year full of gratitude and embracement and courage, a year of relief instead of grief!
And we're back!
Admittedly it was quite difficult to put the book down, clamber out of the oversized reading chair, change out the pjs, and leave the kittens behind at home, but that fantastic season of rest did wonders to prepare me for an exciting semester ahead! Here's a quick glance at what we've got coming up on campus:
We're hitting the ground running by participating in Campus Life Night this Friday evening from 6-8pm in Kirkhof. Stop by our table to hear a bit more about our plans for this semester (and beyond!), learn about the resources we provide, grab some snacks, or try your hand at Celebrity Worldview Trivia!
Speaking of plans, have you heard about our Interfaith Photovoice cohort? Starting in February, we'll be bringing together a group of students with diverse religious/spiritual/secular identities to dig deeper into their GV campus experience. This weekly cohort will use mobile phone photography to help capture and share those stories and will culminate in a public exhibition of the photos. This is a paid focus group, and we're still looking for more participants, so if this sounds like something you'd be interested in, or if you'd like to learn more, please reach out!
We'll also be hosting another session of our What Is Interfaith? interactive workshop later on this month as an introduction to interfaith engagement, especially how cultivating a mindset of cultural humility can lead to a more welcoming campus for everyone. Come learn the basics, pick up some tips and tricks for dialoging across difference, and meet other students interested in the work, as well! We hope to see you there.
And that's just January! We'll have more events, conversations, and other ways to engage throughout the semester, so keep an eye out for more soon!
Liz English, Kaufman Program Coordinator
This past semester, we've been hard at work developing programming, gathering together, and defining our collective voice on campus. We asked each other a couple questions as we look back and look forward into the year ahead. Here are the team's responses:
What do you feel like we've accomplished on campus so far this year?
Molly: Something we did this year was create a space for people to openly talk about their spiritual identity. Through events like interfaith 101 and the Teach-In, we allow people to explore more about themselves self even if it was just for an hour or two.
Cecelia: This past semester has shown me that effort and presence are everything. It can be easy to be discouraged in this type of work, but throughout the semester I have been comforted and found purpose in thinking about what campus would look like if we, and interfaith resource, we’re not here. So this past semester I’ve found there is need and purpose in this work.
Franklin: We’ve accomplished further cementing Kaufman as a campus entity. Seeing the team and my peers all acting on campus makes Kaufman feel more alive and a part of GVSU. We’re going on strong to be a well-oiled, operating machine!
Liz: I hold fast to Rev. Jennifer Bailey's quote that "relationships are built at the speed of trust, and social change happens at the speed of relationships.” We've spent the first half of this school year showing up, being present and reliably available, while getting to know each other as a small but mighty team. I'm very proud of the foundation of trust we've formed within our group.
Zahabia: Reinvigorating presence on campus, clarification of what interfaith resources we have for campus, building connections with all aspects of student life and promoting spiritual wellness on campus, and bringing faith based organizations together on campus.
Kyle: Looking back over this past year, I'm incredibly proud of the strong foundation we have built for offering and sustaining support and resources for students of all worldview identities and traditions. Updated strategic language, goals, and values, a fresh brand layout, a revamped websites, a vivid and compeling new look to the Interfaith Inform e-newsletter help us articulate and showcase the impact of our work and make it easier for students to connect with us, with our programming, and with one another. Likewise, the immense effort to network across the university - Recreation Wellness, Social Justice Centers, Student Ombuds, Counseling Center, University Library, Art Gallery, School of Health Science, Religious Studies, Inclusion & Equity Institute - as well as, strengthen connections with university leadership have set us up to have a wide network of partners and a broad reach with out programming. Lastly, I'm thrilled for the return of our Interfaith Campus Intern program, as we are benefiting greatly from the leadership and vision of three exceptional students this academic year. All of this enabled us to provide a high level of support and direction to the University at a time when hate and division on college campuses has reached a boiling point and will continue to serve us well as we continue the work of fostering the next generation of pluralistic citizens and compassionate neighbors.
What are you looking forward to next semester, or beyond?
Molly: Looking forward, I would love to reach more people on campus. I want people to know what Kaufman is and all the amazing things we are trying to do at GVSU.
Cecelia: I am looking forward to cultivating relationship and community with students not totally on the basis of spiritual identity, but in aim that we can build relationships as full people and they can know any type of spiritually or lack there of has a safe space to be shared or talked about within that relationship and community on campus.
Franklin: Next semester, I am looking forward to seeing how our activity on campus grows as Photovoice takes place. I think the group will really help get Kaufman in the minds of others and create spaces for good conversation.
Liz: Cannot wait for the campus cohort of Interfaith Photovoice to get underway! I'm excited to dive in, to see and hear the stories and experiences of other students on campus.
Zahabia: Photovoice and more intimate conversations with students about issues of religious/spiritual/secular identities on campus. A deeper awareness of Kaufman- who we are, what we do, how we can resource the GV community. Also, hoping we can gain more insight on what the campus needs/wants and that we have that trust with others to work alongside of us on this work.
Kyle : I'm really excited about our upcoming Interfaith Photovoice initiative on campus, both for the amazing relationships that are built through sharing food and storytelling with pictures as well as the ability for us to hear directly from students about their experiences on campus as persons of diverse religious, secular, and spiritual identities. That process of deep and engaged listening with allow students themselves to drive the programs, initiatives, and resources that the Kaufman Interfaith Institute offers to the GVSU campus. As seen with our community councils and planning committees, the Institute is at it's best when it is empowering and supporting grass-roots movements and projects. I'm thrilled to see a similar, yet creative, approach being taken to develop a well resourced community of belonging at Grand Valley.
Doug: The Kaufman team is playing a more important role on campus and we are grateful for the support from students, faculty, staff, and university leadership. These are times when understanding among faith communities is even more important than ever. We continue to find the commonality within difference as we affirm our basic humanity.
I have always lived as a member of a minority religious tradition in a predominantly Christian society. Upon arriving in Oman, one of the first feasts for my senses was the experience of being in a Muslim society. The wafting smell of Frankincense upon exiting the plane in the airport, the prominence of opulent mosques along the roadside, the witnessing of people in Omani garb, and the sounds of the call to prayers transported me to a place that felt strangely comfortable despite its foreignness. I was in Oman for an Interfaith Photovoice project at the Al Amana Centre. I had met up with two of my soon-to-be lifelong friends in this cohort, two Lutheran women from Finland. One of them had interned in Oman and said that she felt most at peace, at home and welcome in Oman. So maybe this place wasn’t making this impression on me because of my personal spirituality, maybe it was just entrancing?
Interfaith Photovoice is a visual sociology tool that uses photos taken on smartphones to answer complex questions that are impossible to convey only verbally. The pictures are accompanied by narratives that work alongside one another so that, as participants share their intention and perspective, others can build on that experience using their pictures and/or experiences, or they can share a completely different angle of the question at hand. Professor Roman Williams led our group through this process. Central to Oman’s culture is an emphasis on multiculturalism and peace. The country celebrates the UN International Day for Tolerance pretty significantly for which the photos we curated into an exhibit would share our perspectives of tools that would help promote peace and understanding across lines of difference. However, due to the violence and oppression taking place in Palestine, this celebration and all others (including the National Day of Oman) were canceled. Nonetheless, we were there for this project and the process of taking part in Interfaith Photovoice was the fodder for deep, meaningful friendships and embodied learning that will live on with us for our lifetimes.
Our cohort of two women and a Christian man from west Michigan (myself- a Muslim and a Christian man and woman), a Muslim woman from Germany, two Lutheran women (one of whom is a minister), and two Palestinians (a Muslim man and a Lutheran woman) from the West Bank. This group lived together at the Al Amana Centre in Muscat, Oman. We were in an old part of the city called Mutrah. The Al Amana Centre’s mission statement says it fosters peace and reconciliation through safe, immersive, interfaith experiences. The center housed, fed, and provided gathering spaces (the majlis) for the Photovoice project. Beyond this, they took us on excursions to multiple Souqs, a visit to a desert resort, a short hike to the aflaj irrigation system, a swim at the Wadi (ravine), a coastline sunset Dhow boat tour, a visit to date farm with a home cooked Omani meal, a trip to a private beach club where we saw bioluminescence, a visit to the National Museum, and a trip to the mall.
Most importantly, we experienced being non-Muslim in a majority Muslim country. We visited the compounds on which most Christians worshiped, a Sikh Gurudwara, and a Hindu Temple. In addition to visiting the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (jaw-droppingly gorgeous) we had the historic experience of the first time non-Muslims were welcome to observe Friday Prayers in Oman at the Al Ameen Mosque. Part of Oman keeping the peace is a strict law forbidding proselytization for people of any faith tradition. Our experiences transported us deep into the Omani culture and our meaningful conversations, excursions, and card games during downtimes bonded the group to one another. We talked about everything from Jinns in Islam to life under occupation. We shared stories of our families, our hopes and dreams, the differences among the cultures we each came from, the ways in which we would forever be transformed and the ways in which we would share our learnings with others.
As we head into the season typically known as "Exam Cram" on campus, the Kaufman team has partnered with Recreation & Wellness and the University Libraries to switch the focus a bit from cramming and stressing to decompressing for a week! Wellness Week will begin Monday December 4th and continue through Friday Dec 8th. Check out this website for more information!
One of our interns, Molly, decided to reflect a bit on what spiritual wellness means to her as she's grown into interfaith work.
My spiritual wellness journey is something that has been really important to me and greatly impacted my life. A key factor to understanding my spiritual wellness was grasping the idea that religion looks different for everyone. Growing up I was raised in a synagogue and it was up to my parents what I participated in. As I got older it started to become up to me how I engaged with my Jewish community. I found out what brought me joy within Judaism, and it made the experiences that I had with my religion a lot more positive. For me, Judaism creates a place where I can make a difference in the world around me. In Judaism, there is a phrase tikkun olam with means, repairing the world. A big part of a lot of Jewish programming is social action. This could mean participating in service projects, bringing in speakers to learn about a topic or lobbying for a cause. I tend to gravitate towards the social action part of Judaism.
Another really big part of Judaism for me is the community aspect. The communities that I have created are not just surrounded by people of my same faith, but any community that allows me to explore my religion. My interfaith community has been so important to me in maintaining a healthy spiritual wellness. There have been times where it has felt scary to embrace my Judaism and my interfaith community has been there to support me. Whether I was going to an interfaith or a youth group event it felt refreshing to be able to express my religion in a safe environment. Being in these spaces reminds me that I am not alone, and there are people that have like minded values to mine.
Molly Schless, Kaufman Campus Intern
Permanent link for Grappling with Thanksgiving, by Liz English, Kaufman Program Coordinator on November 14, 2023
While we enter into this season of thanksgiving, it’s important to be cognizant of the various perspectives and often harmful mythologies that color this time of year for many of our neighbors. For some, this is a peaceful holiday of gathering and giving, a time to surrounding oneself with loved ones; for others, it is a reminder of the painful reality and lingering effects of settler colonialism, and is seen and deeply felt as a day of mourning and loss. With these two stories at loggerheads, we’re left with a tradition that requires reimagining.
The Nuns & Nones Land Justice Project is a national interfaith organization focused on land protection, regeneration, and the expansion of land equity to marginalized and dispossessed communities. In line with this work, they are also naming and wrestling with these juxtaposed perspectives of this season while working with indigenous leaders to find solutions and work toward repair. Their upcoming webinar “Healing this Broken Land: Indigenous Leadership in the Face of Climate Crisis”,taking place next Sunday, November 19th from 4:30-6:30 EST, is a part of their “Rethinking Thanksgiving” initiative. The discussion will be led by Indigenous organizers and non-Native comrades who are cultivating strategies and radical approaches in the struggle toward decolonization, resilience, and repair.
A reminder to be grateful to those in our lives who provide us with peace, with wisdom, and with love will always be welcome. But we must also use this time of reflection to repair those relationships, with our neighbors and with the land, that are strained or broken.
Permanent link for My Interfaith Journey, by Molly Schless, Kaufman Campus Intern on November 14, 2023
My first interfaith relationship was something that was so special to
me and got me into the interfaith work that I’m continuing to do
today. My freshman year of high school, my youth group partnered with
an interfaith nonprofit called Children of Abraham Coalition or COAC.
After the program itself, we all had dinner together and I decided to
sit next to one of the boys from COAC who was in my group. To be
completely honest, the main reason I did this was out of pity. I
noticed that this boy was sitting alone in a room full of Jews and was
one of the only people of a different faith. We ended up having a
really great conversation and it was my favorite part of that whole
weekend. After that event, I continued to do things with COAC and I
got to know this boy, Fares and the amazing person he is. Fares moved
to the US when he was around 10 years old and came here without
speaking any English. Even though his whole life had been turned
upside down when he came to America, he decided to be an interfaith
leader. Through his years at COAC, Fares has inspired so many
including myself to stand up against faith-based hate and treat others
with kindness. These kinds of connections have been one of my favorite
parts about being in the interfaith community. Through my years at
events, I have met so many amazing people like Fares and seen so many
different points of views on life. What I have learned from other
faiths has made me not only become a better leader but a better
person. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have gotten as an
interfaith leader and am so excited to continue my journey through Kaufman.
Permanent link for Jesus and John Wayne: A Book Review and Look Into a Larger Dialogue, by Cecelia Olson, Kaufman Campus Intern on November 10, 2023
As part of my education here at Grand Valley students are required to take courses related to global issues and conversations. This led me, fittingly, to a classroom full of students dedicated to learning about the history of religion within the United States. Supporting our efforts of further research on religion that pertained to our personal interests our professor assigned a book review and research proposal. This is how Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez entered my life.
For some background information, Kristin Kobes Du Mez is an American Historian having been published on multiple occasions and earning a place on New York Times BestSellers list. She is currently also a professor at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan teaching courses surrounding History and Gender Studies. Du Mez earned her PhD from the University of Notre Dame and her studies surround the intersection of gender, politics, and religion. While she has written numerous articles for various media companies like NPR and the New York Times, she has two book publications of her own authorship: A New Gospel for Women and Jesus and John Wayne.
The full title of this Evangelical American history book is: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. While I am personally a Christian, I find myself a minority in America as a traditional Orthodox Christian, therefore not falling under the umbrella of Evangelicalism like most Protestant traditions here in the nation. I say this to highlight how little I know about this version of Christianity that has dominated much of American history and identity, and as Du Mez showed me, has influenced American culture in deeper ways than I had ever thought.
There is not a particular progressive agenda with Jesus and John
Wayne. Written around the time of the 2016 presidential election
many people in the nation were puzzled and asking, “Where did all of
these Trump Voters come from?” and Du Mez offers an answer. It is no
surprise these voters were largely made up of politically
conservative Evangelical Christians, but how did this strong and unique identity even develop in the first place? Jesus and John Wayne works retrospectively to untangle the history of social and political movements of the past century that have created the present day “evangelical cult of masculinity” (301). Very broadly summarized, Du Mez unpacks how white Evangelicals in present American society are not only a distinct group, but a group not totally submitted to the theology and scripture of Christianity. She suggests they are rather people of a culture that promotes rugged individualism, patriarchal authority, militancy, as well as American nationalism and superiority, but didn’t want to give up the label of Christians.
Du Mez does not focus on anything specifically Interfaith within her
work but she does thoroughly demonstrate the depth of relationship
between religion and culture.
This is obviously not a new concept, the intertwinedness of religion and culture, but the general belief is that religion dictates culture. Jesus and John Wayne brings to our attention a group of people who have lived in the inverse, where a culture dominated and “corrupted” a religion.
Du Mez writes, “By the early twentieth century, Christians recognized that they had a masculinity problem. Unable to shake the sense that Christianity had a less than masculine feel, many blamed the faith itself, or at least the “feminization” of Victorian Christianity, which privileged gentility, restraint, and an emotive response to the gospel message”(15). The virtues that are the pillar of Chrsitan life, patience, love, peace, gentleness and so on, are not conducive to the American man or the image of American masculinity.
Jesus didn’t look, talk, or act like John Wyane. This rugged and militant American culture clashed with Christianity and the image of Christ was corrupted.
This reality Du Mez untangles, opens a dialogue to a much larger conversation of Christ in America. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, the image of Jesus and Christianity I witness in Evangelicalism and Protestantism in general, is very different from the Christ I know. But oftentimes these are still images of Christ I can recognize because it is still the God of genuine love for thy neighbor and thy enemy.
Other times I see a weaponized version of “Christ”. Just the other
day, on Grand Valley’s campus there was a group of preachers who
called themselves Chrsitans but
shouted nothing but superiority, contention, exclusivity, condemnation, and hate towards others.
They didn’t look, talk, or act like the Jesus I know.
A friend of mine, who is one of the most devout Christians I have
ever met and identifies under the non-denominational branch, came to
me crying for the same
reason. This corruption of a faith, as Du Mez would say, did not simply corrupt evangelicalism but spread and weaponized the image of a much larger faith that is
It is worth noting that not all evangelicals or protestant Christians
belong, subscribe, or agree with the Christianity De Mez highlights,
but I am not alone in being
aware that the image of the true Christian God and the Jesus’ teachings, has been horribly distorted and made harmful to countless people. So we are left with a question that has no real answer: what do we do? How do Christians, interfaith leaders, Americans even go about trying to heal something that has been so fractured and corrupted?
I certainly don’t have an answer of how to heal this reality of a
weaponized Jesus that dominates American culture. But the first step
towards healing is to identify and accept that something is broken,
distorted, or corrupted. Du Mez and her work Jesus and John
Wayne analyzes and identifies this wound that is openly bleeding
American spiritual scene. The last line of Jesus and John Wayne reads, “What was once done might also be undone” (304).
With an informed and hopeful voice, Du Mez decided to speak up and open a very relevant and crucial dialogue about Christianity and its relationship with American culture. Perhaps this is the first step to the undoing.
“...the wise forgive but do not forget.” - Thomas Szasz
Recently, I chose to look into how Judaism tackles forgiveness. After struggling with someone recently, I thought it would be important to reflect on the situation. Forgiveness is a value I hold dear - living with forgiveness and embracing the wholeness of its caliber offers me a lot of peace from day to day. Opening Google Chrome and typing into the search bar, I was hoping to find a cool story about forgiveness. Instead, I came across an article written by Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar titled “A Story of Forgiveness and Reconciliation,” written a couple of years ago. I enjoyed it less for the biblical (torah-lical?) text, and more so for the new perspective it offered to me on forgiveness. It was a much better find than just a cool story.
In the middle of the work, Rabbi Kedar starts a paragraph with “Memory goes to the very foundation of our tradition.” I believe this statement applies to humans in general, and all their cultural mechanisms. From viking funerals to a native American burial, there’s an honor in conducting ceremonies to remember someone’s passing. Memory serves many feelings, and forgiveness is one of them. Later in the paragraph Kedar says “The evil and offensive ways of the world are remembered so that we may learn to do better, that we may hold the victims in a loving space in our hearts, that we may be wiser in identifying when evil begins to lurk in our midst. No, we do not forget,” following that later with my key takeaway from the article:
“Forgiveness is the gift we give ourselves.”
As I said, forgiveness offers me a lot of peace, but never before have I thought of forgiveness as a gift to myself. I think this gift can be given to others as well if they choose to embrace forgiveness. Thinking about the larger world, and my seemingly small problems in relation, I think it is important for forgiveness to be given to one’s self and others more often. Forgiving in the day-to-day will let us all take a look at a bigger picture and work together. Given this post, I can leave those who take time out of their day for me with one last thing to think about: Going forward, how will you use the phrase “Forgive and forget”?
Franklin Specter, Kaufman Campus Intern
Permanent link for A Reflection On Patel's Interfaith Leadership, by Franklin Specter, Kaufman Campus Intern on October 17, 2023
Interfaith Leadership A Primer is written by Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith America.The foundation stands to bring together diverse communities into spaces of cooperation; and this book compiles information, strategies, and personal narratives from Patel’s experiences working toward that goal. The book introduces the interfaith in a consumable way providing opportunity for the reader to think and explore further.
I am expressing my thoughts on an in-between I found in the book that I want to explore further. I found Patel’s book never really touched on what I discuss, and believe it is an interesting perspective to consider. If you build an educational bridge for interfaith for a community that wants to embrace it but doesn’t have the opportunity, can they cross that bridge and be considered pluralist?
Page 63 states a key concept from the book: “Such insights [discussing how diversity leads to civil isolation] lead scholars like Diana Eck to draw a distinction between diversity and pluralism: diversity is simply the fact the fact of people with different identities in intense interaction; pluralism is the achievement of understanding and cooperation.” This distinction was new to me, but it makes sense. A place can be diverse and individualist. However, I had a few thoughts regarding the paragraph. If the goal is pluralism, do you first have to make the space diverse? Can you educate on interfaith well enough without personal interactions for people to understand and be willing to cooperate once they do meet a diverse environment? I do believe it is possible, but then maybe never successful. If you instill within someone the willingness to cooperate, is it their job to seek out diversity? If a community is understanding and willingly cooperative but the environment isn’t diverse, will they ever be pluralist? The small town of Nowhere, Kansas would have a hard time enacting what Patel teaches even if they want to embrace it. There’s an interesting position within the transition between diversity and pluralism that exists. I think people reside there, and I’m not quite sure how I’d classify their experiences with interfaith.
Franklin Specter, Kaufman Campus Intern